Part 5 of My Scandinavian Adventures

Life has taken precedence over this blog over the last week and a half (mostly celebrating my birthday and spending time with friends from out of town and in general, living) but I was also intimidated about the sheer number of photos I had to wade through to present in this post, aka the Russian Post (ooh, sounds like a drink- probably very dark and stiff, but with a hint of chocolate to mask the bitterness?).  We took a LOT of pictures in Russia- probably close to a thousand, I kid you not.

Of course, Russia is not exactly the easiest country to visit (at least for American citizens) and who knows when I’ll be there next (if ever?) so we just took a lot of photos in case this is our one and only trip. We visited very touristy areas, but that was due to the fact that unless you have a special travel visa, you MUST stay with your tour group at all times or stay on the boat.  No exceptions, and I had no desire to see what would happen if I chose to go poking around on my own.

Though we only visited one city again (St. Petersburg) we spent two days there, the most out of any port.  For my family, going to Russia was one of the deciding factors of taking this trip, as we have been talking about it for a few years and this seemed to be a pretty straightforward way of going about it.

From my brief visit in the former capital, I could tell that though it has a long and rich history, the government hasn’t sunk as much money as it could into beautifying and restoring the city to its former glory.  There are still lots of historic buildings and monuments and palaces (seriously, there was a palace on every corner) but in between, everything was rather ordinary and nondescript.  Since we were on a guided tour, we didn’t get to interact with ordinary folk that much (it was limited to our bus driver, waiters, cashiers, strict museum babushkas and our tour guide, whose dry humor definitely defied any notion of Russians being cold and humorless.)  Not to say the city wasn’t impressive, but it wasn’t beautiful in the way that Paris is- everything just felt there.  However, apparently all the city folk flee to the countryside in the summer, so the dead air might have been from the lack of humans.

After spending two days spending a good portion of our time ogling golden ceilings or intricately tiled mosaic icons or trying to wrap my head around the amount of things housed in the Hermitage, I kind of got palace-overload.  I will be the first to tell you how much I love all things that have to do with monarchies and royalty and in general, the good life.  I’m not embarrassed to admit that the idea of being born into a world of privilege and enjoying ridiculously expensive things like golden toilets fascinates me.  The ability of one person or family to own so many things, as well as the ingenuity of the master craftsmen who could make all their dreams come true boggles the mind.  (Or as my brother said, “It’s no wonder the peasants revolted!” when seeing our hundredth room with custom parquet floors in ten different woods and velvet covered chairs next to tables covered in silk and porcelain.) It also tired me out, as one can only view so many marble carvings and jeweled tables before they all start to look the same.

Highlights of our trip there:

  • Peterhof Palace, said to have been built to rival Versailles.  Yeah.  Definitely did its job.  We unfortunately didn’t get to spend much time in the gardens, which I would’ve enjoyed.  Also crowded as f***.  Or China.
  • The Hermitage, formerly known as the Winter Palace.  If you had time to view everything in its storage for even a few seconds, it would take you years.  I imagine the royal family definitely didn’t look at everything.  Oh yeah, they had a da Vinci and Rembrandt and some other Old Masters.  But who cares about that when you’ve got such pretty chandeliers?
  • St. Isaac’s Cathedral- the ability of man is astounding, especially when it pertains to religion, as the art and craftsmanship adorning its walls were breathtaking.  Devotion and faith can result in some pretty spectacular results.
  • Peter & Paul Fortress- The history geek in me loved this place, as the heavy majority of all the Romanov rulers are buried here, including Catherine the Great and Grand Duchess Anastasia & her family (aka “The Last of the Romanovs.”)
  • Prince Yusupov’s Palace- Another geek out for me, as we visited the cellar where Rasputin was murdered.  Dun dun dun.  They also had nice wax figures recreating it.
  • The weather being a nice toasty 80 degrees- who knew one could get a tan in Russia?  Went nicely with the shots of vodka they served at every stop (even in the souvenir store…wonder if anyone gets drunk and bumps into merchandise?)

Be warned, it’s a lot of photos this time around (see if you can spot me in one!).  Also, don’t know if you could tell, but I have a thing for chandeliers.

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